NEW ORLEANS — The Denver Nuggets came into tonight’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans still in the fight of their lives. At 36-40, the Nuggets were still in the race for the No. 8 overall seed in the Western Conference.
A Portland Trailblazers loss on Monday night meant that a win in The Big Easy would have put Denver within a half game of recapturing that much sought after eighth seed. That was the plan for head coach Michael Malone, at least.
“We’re trying to win every game,” Malone said before the game.
Of course, against a team like New Orleans, that job is far easier said than done. The Nuggets were 1-1 in their previous pair of matchups against the Pelicans. However, they had struggled to contain Pelicans’ star Anthony Davis. He had gone for 50-points in their opening night game back in October and put up similar stats in Denver’s home loss to New Orleans earlier this week.
However, the prospect of guarding Cousins didn’t seem to bother Malone.
“If Anthony Davis gets his and nobody else does and we win, I’m fine with that,” Malone said pre-game.
Davis certainly got his. So did everyone else.
On a night where both teams seemed to leave their defense back in the locker room, the Nuggets survived a late charge in New Orleans to beat the Pelicans 134-131. Every single player who finished the game on the floor for Denver scored in double digits.
That, of course, includes point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Coming off the bench for the second straight game, Mudiay was able to contribute critical minutes once again. He finished the night with 15-points and 7-assists, including a critical late game free throw.
In the last two games since starting point guard Jameer Nelson has been injured, Mudiay has re-established himself as a piece of the Nuggets rotation. It’s a positive sign for the 21-year-old as he tries to find himself in the NBA.
Davis, meanwhile, was an absolute force for New Orleans. He dominated the game both on the floor and the stat sheet, putting up 41-points and 5-rebounds in a totally dominant effort.
The game started with an offensive explosion. Davis, tag-teaming with center DeMarcus Cousins, led the Pelicans offense to 75-points in just the first half. The Nuggets had no choice but to make a change.
“The first half was a shootout,” Malone said. “That was the challenge at half-time. 75-points. We had nine blow-bys. I challenged our guys to guard.”
Denver answered the bell in the second half, at least to some extent, allowing a closer to average 56-points.
That improved second half defensive performance allowed the Nuggets to win both the third and fourth quarters, and eventually find their way to the win after some hectic action late and a late game-sealing steal by guard Gary Harris.
On Wednesday, the Nuggets will play the second game of this back-to-back on the road in Houston. A double-digit Trailblazers loss in Salt Lake City means Denver has an opportunity to get a tie in the standings for the last playoff spot in the West. However, thanks to tiebreakers, the Nuggets need to finish a full game ahead of the Blazers to actually make the postseason.
For his part, Malone believes this team is capable of doing just that. After back-to-back solid road wins, the Nuggets, he says, still have the drive and desire to be a playoff team.
“A lot of people keep on counting us out,” Malone said. “When we lost three in a row, a lot of people had kind of given up hope. We haven’t. Everyone in that locker room is remaining positive, and optimistic. We’re going to play this thing out. Hell of a win for us.”